January 2009

Budget Issues Take Spotlight

Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It’s hard to consider any college or professional issue these days without prefacing my thoughts with the word “budget.”

I have just returned from concurrent meetings of the veterinary college deans and the North American Veterinary Conference. I had the opportunity to speak with others attending and the poor economic situation impacts everyone in veterinary academia.

The national downturn in the economy is affecting the majority of our nation’s colleges of veterinary medicine located at publicly funded (or assisted) universities; we are all facing severe reductions in state support that are painful to manage while conserving our core programs.

At the time of this writing, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and the Virginia General Assembly are attempting to deal with a predicted shortfall of an estimated $3 billion in the current 2008-2010 biennium. It is a very dynamic figure, one subject to revision as more precise data emerges regarding the state’s revenue projections. Also unknown is exactly how the additional budget cuts are going to affect higher education, which in the past has had some capacity to buffer itself through tuition increases.

While we cannot predict what the future will bring, all indicators forecast continued declines in state revenue, meaning we must be planning for additional state budget reductions. Here is a recap of the reductions made since 2007: During the 2007-2008 fiscal year, we sustained a $466,635 reduction in our base budget funding from the state in our 229 (experiment station and cooperative extension) and 208 (instructional) accounts. During the 2008-2009 year, we sustained one-time and base-budget reductions of $887,301. As we prepared for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, we were required to prepare and submit budget reduction plans totaling $909,224.

The math is simple; the approach we must take to managing these reductions is, of course, not simple at all. As I have stated before, our guiding principle in considering these cutbacks is to preserve the integrity of our DVM program. At our core, this is what we are obliged to do: train future generations of veterinarians. As a result, our past and future reduction plans have been, and will be, focused on programs that enhance, but are not essential for, continuing our professional programs.

Our organization is a complex system that functions as the sum of many parts. It is a very challenging task to define what elements of our teaching, service, research, and administrative programs are more or less central to the success of our DVM professional degree program. All of our college activities and functions were developed as a result of need; they were not established without careful scrutiny and thought. Our programs are highly integrated and interdependent. There are no easy solutions, and allocating our resources during this time of retrenchment is demanding the very best of our college’s leadership team.

We should all remember that every one of us: faculty, staff, students, alumni and practitioner colleagues, are ambassadors for the VMRCVM. We must do all we can to make sure that everyone understands the value we bring to the veterinary world, not only in Virginia and Maryland, but around the globe. We should also do everything we can to make our college something worthy of investment from private donors.

There is much uncertainty. But what is absolutely certain in this turbulent financial environment is that we must do everything we can to help ourselves by adapting to the new economic reality.


Gerhardt G. Schurig

VMRCVM’s Dr. Bonnie Smith Earns Nation’s Top Teaching Award

Dr. Bonnie Smith

Dr. Bonnie Smith has received the national Carl J. Norden-Pfizer Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor that celebrates her as the best among the thousands of professors teaching in the nation’s 28 colleges of veterinary medicine.

Dr. Bonnie Smith’s passion for teaching is as core to her being as bones are to a vertebrate.

The veterinary anatomist in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP) has earned more than 20 teaching awards during her 23-year career.

Now, Smith has been awarded the national Carl J. Norden-Pfizer Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor that celebrates her as the best among the thousands of professors teaching in the nation’s 28 colleges of veterinary medicine.

“I feel tremendously honored,” said Smith, who is the third VMRCVM faculty member to be recognized with the national veterinary profession’s most prestigious teaching award in the past 10 years. “I feel tremendously humbled.”

Smith was formally apprised of the honor in a letter sent from Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). “You have the heartfelt congratulations and enduring gratitude of the entire veterinary profession,” wrote Pappaioanou in the letter. “You hold a very special place in our profession as an educator of the next generation of veterinarians, and you have shown yourself to be competent, caring and expert in your teaching ability.”

“This is our profession’s most prestigious teaching award and it commends a professor who has been recognized for teaching excellence throughout her career,” said VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig, noting her achievement also speaks of the quality of instruction in the VMRCVM. “We’re very proud of her.”

As a professor of anatomy and physiology, Smith teaches aspiring veterinarians gross anatomy, physiology, embryology, and morphology. Presented early in the curriculum, these courses are so sweeping in scope and detail that they can sometimes be overwhelming. Smith is well known for her ability to simplify the material and make it clinically applicable for students.

“I try to find a balance between teaching too much and teaching too little,” said Smith, adding that her goal is to provide her students with a level of understanding will enable them to be successful in school and in their professional careers. “I try to remember that I’m teaching DVM students. I’m not teaching veterinary anatomists and I’m not teaching veterinary technicians.”

Smith sees the teaching process as a “partnership” between herself and her students. Her passion for teaching is fueled by her students’ “willingness and hard work,” she said, and she believes the national Norden award is as much a recognition of the partnership between teacher and student as it is a recognition of her.

“Let's face it,” said Smith, whose clothing and jewelry often features Celtic knots because of the wholistic, integrated nature of life that they symbolize. “The students are the reason that we’re here. The students need to matter. They must matter.”

Based upon the rapport she seems to have with her students, they certainly do. Smith can’t walk down a hall without veterinary students coming up to ask her how she is doing with her battle against cancer and giving her the occasional hug. It is apparent her students respect her as a mentor but trust her as a friend.

During Smith's tenure in the VMRCVM, her student reviews have consistently placed her in the top three to four faculty members in the college, according to Dr. Blair Meldrum, a professor in DBSP, a former associate dean for academic affairs in the college, and a person who participated in her nomination for the award.

"Bonnie epitomizes the qualities we have come to associate with teaching excellence," said Meldrum. "She has the uncommon ability to reach into students' minds and hearts to tailor instruction to meet individual learning styles and needs."

"She is a colleague for whom I have the highest regard," stated Meldrum. "Her actions are truly an example to those around her."

Sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, this national award honors faculty members who have displayed outstanding teaching ability.

Smith received B.S. and M.S. degrees in zoology, a DVM and a Ph.D. in veterinary anatomy with a minor in human anatomy from The Ohio State University. Before joining the college in 1991, Smith was a visiting assistant professor at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Her research interests are classical morphology, functional morphology, and teratology. Smith is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists, and the American Association of Anatomists.

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VMRCVM, Luna Innovations Partner on NIH Funded Nerve Gas Program

Marion Ehrich

Dr. Marion Ehrich is leading a team that has been awarded almost $1 million from the National Institutes of Health to explore the development of a nanotechnology-based approach for protecting people from the deadly affects of nerve gases.

A veterinary pharmaco-toxicologist in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine is leading a team that has been awarded almost $1 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore the development of a nanotechnology-based approach for protecting people from the deadly affects of nerve gases like Sarin, VX and others that can be used as agents of terror.

Dr. Marion Ehrich, a professor in the college’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP) and co-director of the Laboratory for Neurotoxicity Studies, will spend three years developing novel methods for delivering chemical antidotes that can mitigate the devastating effect of organophosphate-based neurotoxicants.

The experiments will involve the use of nanoparticles called fullerenes - commonly known as “Buckyballs” - that have been modified to enhance their water solubility and catalytic and antioxidant properties. The nanoWorks and Biomedical Technologies Group of Luna Innovations Inc. of Roanoke, Va., the company that is partnering with Ehrich on the work, are developing the fullerene derivatives and supporting immunoreagents.

“Organophosphorous compounds represent a class of extremely potent chemical warfare agents that can cause incapacitation and death within minutes of exposure,” said Ehrich. The 1994 and 1995 Japanese subway attacks conducted by terrorists using sarin gas and the attacks on the northern Iraqi Kurds perpetrated by former dictator Saddam Hussein are both examples of chemical terrorism and warfare using organophosphate compounds, according to Ehrich.

These agents work by inhibiting the production of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which metabolizes the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, an agent that plays a critical role in movement and other physiological processes like respiration and digestion.

The resulting proliferation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine unleashes a cascading sequence of clinical problems, including salivation, lacrimation or tearing of the eyes, urination, defecation, tremors, seizures, and eventually paralysis as the wildly firing synaptic junctions eventually cause muscle exhaustion, paralysis and death.

The conventional therapeutic approach for treating nerve gas exposure is to administer atropine, which blocks cholinergic receptors, and pralidoxime or 2-PAM, which can remove the organophosphate compounds from the acetylcholinesterase, explains Ehrich, provided it is administered in time.

But there are inherent limitations on the effectiveness of atropine against nerve gases that depend largely upon the amount of the agent the victim is exposed to and the amount of time that passes between the toxic insult and the time that the atropine is administered. Also, while the atropine can be effective in dealing with what is commonly referred to as the SLUD effects (salivation, lacrimation, urination and defecation), it is not effective in dealing with the brain damage that is caused by oxidative stress, or the tissue-destroying oxygen-free radicals that are generated by the toxicants.

This is because the atropine cannot pass through the “blood-brain barrier,” a vascular network of brain capillaries with dense intercellular junctions that combine to create a biologically protective “sheathe” that permits some molecules to pass but inhibits others.

The inability of the atropine to pass through the blood-brain barrier substantially limits the ability to prevent the critical neurologic threat caused by the uncontrolled seizures, and the secondary neurological damage that is caused by the oxygen free-radicals generated following the seizures.

“The water-soluble fullerenes developed by Luna Innovations are an absolutely critical part of this novel approach to developing better counter-measures,” said Ehrich. “We’re delighted to be collaborating with them.” Luna Innovations engages in the research, development, and commercialization of technologies in the areas of test measurements, sensing instrumentation and health care.

Ehrich hopes the research will be effective in two ways. First, and most important, she has preliminary results that suggest the fullerene derivatives will bind with the free organophosphate compounds. This would protect the body because the toxicants have not yet begun to exert their toxic affect.

“I want something that is going to scavenge the organophosphates,” said Ehrich, who is a past president of the 6300-member national Society of Toxicology, underscoring the importance of developing countermeasures that are more effective than just atropine.

Second, since the fullerenes should be effective in crossing the blood brain barrier, she believes they should be effective in mitigating the oxygen free-radicals that play a role in the development of seizures.

The National Institutes of Health R21 grant provides $946,432 in funding, including the Luna Innovations sub-contract. It is expected to support a three-year research effort. The researchers hope to identify two effective fullerenes by May 2009 using in vitro experiments, and focus future study on those.

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Animal Husbandry Staff Help Provide Safe Environment for Animals and Humans

Trina Whitteker

Trina Whitteker assists a patient in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She and other members of the animal husbandry staff are responsible for the important task of maintaining biosecurity protocols in the hospital.

A clean environment is critical in every hospital. Without it, bad things can happen--the prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in human health-care facilities in recent years is just one example.

Biosecurity is a high priority for the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), and much of the responsibility for maintaining a clean workplace rests with the hospital’s husbandry staff.

These individuals are responsible for making sure all areas are cleaned and disinfected before, during, and after patients are managed in the hospital. They receive specific training in the area of biosecurity that includes proper methods for handling and disposal of wastes, cleaning, and disinfection. These protocols are important to protect against animal-to-animal and animal-to-human transfer of infectious disease.

“We make sure the hospital is safe not only for patients and clients, but students, faculty, and staff as well,” explains Vanessa Walker, who supervises the large animal husbandry staff. Husbandry personnel are trained to assist with animal restraint and food preparation. If qualified, they may also be asked to help in a variety of other areas of hospital operation.

Working closely with the animals and the medical staff provides valuable experience for those who seek to learn more about veterinary medicine. In fact, many of the husbandry staff are either students in the DVM program or individuals hoping to obtain admission to the school, according to Deanna McCrudden, a licensed veterinary technician, who supervises the husbandry staff in the Small Animal Hospital.

“The work these individuals do is an important part of maintaining the health of our patients and employees,” said Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the VTH. “Their diligence and reliability benefits us all.”

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Memory of Hannah Helps “Gracie” Serve Others

Gracie and Dr. Settlage

A recent donation in memory of 15-year old Hannah George was used to help “Gracie,” a therapy horse for abused, neglected and un-wanted children. Gracie is pictured above with Dr. Julie Settlage who assisted with her treatment.

Hannah George was, by all accounts, a bright, happy, compassionate, 15-year old girl. When she was killed with her father, prominent Roanoke cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey George, on December 3 in a tragic car accident, there was heartache for many.

"She was just always glowing with the most radiant smile on her face. No matter what the situation was," said Sam Cox, headmaster of Faith Christian School in Roanoke where Hannah was in the ninth grade, in a Roanoke Times newspaper article. "And her greatest passion in life was horses."

It was Hannah’s passion that led friends of the Georges, Bob and Susan Heath and their children, to make a donation for equine compassionate care to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Hannah’s memory.

“Hannah loved horses,” wrote Susan. “She was a beautiful person who is so missed.”

In the mountains of West Virginia, a horse she never met is continuing to help others thanks to Hannah’s kind spirit, the Heaths' generosity, and the talents of the surgeons in the veterinary college’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS).

“Gracie” is a 12-year old Appendix Quarter Horse mare from the equine assisted therapy program at New River Ranch in Fayette County. The ranch has provided residential group home care and health services to abused, neglected and un-wanted children since 1988.

“Gracie, as well as other horses that belong to New River Ranch, provides a unique and valuable resource in the treatment of the children we serve,” said Dr. Carl White, executive director of the ranch. “Our children have the opportunity to learn from their relationship with our horses a wide variety of lessons--such has how to give and receive love.”

Gracie was first brought to the Harry T. Peters Large Animal Hospital in late 2008 for help with wound care after she received a severe laceration on her left hind leg caused by high tensile wire.

She had received the wound several months prior to her trip to the hospital and, while she had received very good care at the ranch, several inches of hard, granulation tissue had formed on the leg, preventing it from healing properly, according to Dr. Linda Dahlgren, assistant professor, DLACS, who first treated Gracie.

In addition, x-rays showed a specula bone proliferation—an outgrowth of bone on her leg at the wound site—that was also interfering with wound closure. While not life-threatening, large wounds like this can be uncomfortable and affect a horse’s quality of life, explains Dahlgren. They can interfere with a horse’s ability to be ridden and are often repeatedly traumatized by the opposite leg or objects around the barn area and pasture.

The first step toward recovery was to remove the abnormalities and get the wound bed healthy. Dahlgren successfully completed this with the help of Dr. Erik Noschka, resident, DLACS, and several students. This prepared the leg for a later skin graft.

After a week or so of recovery and observation, Gracie was sent home to heal over the holidays.

Gracie returned to the VTH early in the New Year for evaluation. The wound was healing properly and was ready for the graft. Dr. Julie Settlage, clinical assistant professor, DLACS, and Noschka performed the procedure in which small plugs of skin were taken from underneath Gracie’s mane and placed in recipient holes made within the wound.

Skin grafts are often necessary in wounds such as Gracie’s since horses have a limited amount of loose skin on their legs that can contract to cover the wound.

Bandage management during the first four to five days after a graft is highly critical, according to Settlage.

“During this time, grafts can adhere to the bandage instead of the wound and be inadvertently removed during change,” she said. “In fact, grafts do not become firmly adhered to the wound bed until around the 10th day.”

Because of this risk, it was recommended to keep Gracie in the hospital for extended observation.

“The Heaths’ donation allowed Gracie to stay in the hospital during these critical 10 days and we were able to supervise the bandage changes and graft success,” said Settlage. “At the time of discharge, it appeared as if we had a greater than 90 percent survival of the grafts—which is even higher than expected.”

Since she has returned home, Gracie’s wound has continued to heal with the help of the staff at the ranch, who have documented the process in pictures for the veterinarians who helped her. A full recovery is expected, according to Dahlgren.

“While we obviously cannot offer financial assistance in every case, we are very pleased the Heaths’ donation in memory of Hannah George allowed us the unique opportunity to offset a small percentage of Gracie’s care,” said Dr. David Hodgson, head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. “We are especially pleased since Gracie’s good health will contribute to other children’s success.”

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Two Alums Return to College as Faculty

Dr. David Caudell & Dr. Julie McGhee Settlage

Drs. David Caudell (left) and Julie Settlage (right), both members of the VMRCVM Class of 2000, have recently joined the college’s faculty.

Two members of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2000 have recently returned to the college as faculty members.

Dr. David Caudell has joined the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology (DBSP) as an assistant professor of anatomic pathology. He was most recently a molecular pathology fellow in the Comparative Molecular Pathology Laboratory in the National Cancer Institute.

In addition to his DVM, he received an A.A. in animal agriculture and agriculture technology from Virginia Tech in 1994 and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Maryland-College Park in 2008. He also completed a residency in anatomic pathology at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla.

In 2007, Caudell was the recipient of the American College of Veterinary Pathology’s Young Investigator Award and was a finalist for the Merck-Merial Young Investigator.

His research interests include mouse models of hematopoietic malignancies and immunodeficiency, immunopathology, and bone marrow biology.

He is a member of the American Society of Hematology, the Washington, D.C. Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Veterinary Diagnosticians, and the C. L. Davis, DVM Foundation.

Dr. Julie McGhee Settlage has joined the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences (DLACS) as a clinical assistant professor of surgery.

She was most recently an emergency veterinarian at Animal Emergency Hospital in Newton, N.J. and she also owned Jersey Shore Veterinarian Acupuncture in Ocean Grove, N.J. She also completed a residency at Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center. She has previously been with the VMRCVM as a clinical instructor and an adjunct professor of large animal surgery.

Settlage maintains a professional interest in colic and emergency/critical care.

She received her B.S. in biology from the College of William and Mary in 1995. She is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and is a member of Phi Zeta and Phi Sigma Honor Society.

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Equine Veterinary Technicians Gather for Major CE Event in Leesburg


Veterinary technicians attend the wet lab on dentistry presented by Dr. James Brown at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center.

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center recently hosted the American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians’ (AAEVT) mid-Atlantic Regional Symposium in Leesburg.

Over 70 veterinary technicians who specialize in working with horses attended lectures and participated in labs in order to earn continuing education credit, learn about advances in equine veterinary care, and apply new skills.

A wealth of information was available to symposium attendees, beginning on Thursday evening as several administrative personnel from the EMC offered practice management tips. Lectures presented by EMC faculty-members on Friday and Sunday covered topics such as equine emergencies, neonate critical care, pain management, cardiology, respiratory disease, dentistry, gait analysis, and other subjects.

“Wet labs,” which offered hands-on opportunities for participants to learn more about a variety of subjects, took place at the EMC over the course of the day on Saturday. Wet labs topics covered the spectrum from nuclear scintigraphy, digital radiography, ultrasound techniques, equine dentistry, hoof care, diagnostic treadmill examinations, and more.

Overwhelmingly, attendees expressed enormous satisfaction with not only the information presented at the symposium but with how well the event was organized. As one participant stated, “I just wanted to congratulate you on a wonderful seminar; I learned a lot.”

“We were very pleased to have hosted this important symposium,” noted Dr. Nathaniel A. White, the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and director of the EMC.

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EMC's White Authors Comprehensive Book on Equine Colic

The Equine Acute Abdomen

Dr. Nathaniel White, the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and director the EMC, has authored and edited the second edition of The Equine Acute Abdomen.

Dr. Nathaniel White, the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and director of Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, has authored and edited the second edition of The Equine Acute Abdomen.

The book provides a thorough discussion of normal and abnormal anatomy and physiology of the horse’s gastrointestinal tract and includes surgical techniques and medical treatments for the diseases that cause colic.

The Equine Acute Abdomen, published by Teton New Media, was co-edited by Dr. James Moore and Dr. Timothy Mair. The book offers readers information that will help them effectively identify and treat any disease of the stomach, intestines, peritoneum, liver, and abdominal wall. Complications associated with colic are also described. With more than 410 illustrations contained in 44 chapters, the volume is a valuable compendium of information.

“Dr. White is one of our most accomplished equine clinicians and researchers,” said Dr. Gerhardt G. Schurig, dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. “This book is an important scholarly achievement and I’m sure the new edition will become an important reference text for those veterinarians, students, and horse owners who deal with equine abdominal disease.”

White has authored or co-authored 152 journal articles and 36 book chapters, has published 43 abstracts, and is the author and editor of The Equine Acute Abdomen, Current Practice of Surgery, Current Techniques in Equine Surgery and Lameness and the Handbook of Equine Colic. His clinical and research interests include pathophysiology of ischemia-reperfusion, epidemiology of colic, abdominal and orthopedic surgery, and treatment of orthopedic diseases.

White received his doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) at Cornell University in 1971. After completing an internship and residency in surgery at the University of California-Davis, he spent a year in practice before graduating with a master of science in pathology at Kansas State University in 1976. White has served on the faculty of Kansas State University, the University of Georgia, and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

He was the Theodora Ayer Randolph Professor of Surgery as an eminent scholar at Virginia Tech from 1987 to 2003. White is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and is a past chairman of the ACVS Board of Regents. In addition, he is currently president-elect of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and welfare of the horse.

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Maryland Researchers Pursuing Development of Avian Flu Vaccine

Dr. Daniel Perez

Dr. Daniel Perez is leading a University of Maryland team that has developed a universal influenza vaccine for animals that may help prevent or delay another human flu pandemic.

A University of Maryland-led science team has developed a universal influenza vaccine for animals that may help prevent or delay another human flu pandemic.

Led by Dr. Daniel Perez, a University of Maryland associate professor and virologist in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, the team has developed a vaccine component that can be used to immunize both birds and mammals from dangerous forms of the flu, including the highly lethal H5N1 avian influenza strain.

This new universal influenza component promises to make it much easier to create a human vaccine capable of protecting humans against lethal avian bird flu strains. In addition, it can be used to vaccinate wild and domestic birds or other species, thus reducing the spread of flu viruses among these populations and decreasing the chance that deadly new human flu strains will spring from these animal reservoirs.

"We now have a vaccine that works in many animal species and can protect against any type of influenza that we want," Perez said, who does his research at the College Park campus of the veterinary college.

The vaccine for a virus is derived from the virus. The vaccine mimics the presence of the virus without causing disease, priming the body's immune system to recognize and fight against the virus. The immune system produces antibodies against the vaccine that remain in the system until they are needed. If that virus, or in some case a closely similar one is later introduced into the system, those antibodies attach to viral particles and remove them before they have time to replicate, preventing or lessening symptoms of the virus.

Perez and his team used genes from the avian flu virus H9N2 to create a live, weakened flu vaccine. This type of vaccine consists of a living but weakened form of a virus that is generally harmless.

"H9N2 is another avian influenza virus with a broad host range. It can infect both birds and mammals," Perez said. "We wanted to try to use the backbone of that virus to create a live but weakened form of the virus and make a one-size-fits-all universal vaccine."

They isolated genes from the H9N2 virus to make up a "backbone" that consists of internal genes common to other flu strains. The backbone can be used as a starting point from which to quickly create other live, weakened flu vaccines because it can be genetically modified at the surface to resemble particular flu viruses for the purposes of vaccination.

"We can attach any surface proteins to this backbone to make a vaccine specific for almost any another influenza virus," Perez said.

Most currently used vaccines offer protection for a specific animal species against a small range of virus strains. These vaccines take a long time to make (about six months for a vaccine tailored for humans) and they generally cannot be shared between species.

Avian flu viruses are so lethal to humans because they are structurally different from human strains. The human immune system does not recognize these viruses and therefore cannot defend the body against them. Because there is little natural immunity to these strains of viruses in humans, a pandemic would likely result if one of these avian flu viruses mutated to spread easily among humans. Because of increased international travel, such a virus would likely spread more easily and quickly than in past influenza pandemics.

Some avian influenza strains, including the H5N1 and H9N2 strains have shown a limited ability to infect humans who have direct contact with birds, but these virus strains cannot be easily transmitted from human to human. However, 50 percent of humans recently infected with the H5N1 strain have died, sparking growing concern among world health officials about the potential for this strain to cause a human pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says another strain of bird flu virus could mutate and become easily transmissible between humans, causing another pandemic. However, no one knows which influenza strain will undergo such a mutation. The H5N1 avian flu virus has recently caused an influenza pandemic in wild and domestic birds in Eurasian and African countries, and may be a likely candidate.

"In case of pandemic influenza, we will need a vaccine, but we cannot tell ahead of time what the virus is going to look like," Perez said. "We may prepare a vaccine before the pandemic occurs, but we don't know if that vaccine is going to be good enough."

A universal backbone that could immunize many different animal species, like the one Perez has proposed, could be modified quickly to create a vaccine for a specific virus.

"A vaccine from this backbone could be deployed much faster than one specifically tailored to humans, because the vaccine would be already available for other animals. All we would have to do is modify it, grow it, and use it in humans. We would not have to remake it from scratch," he said.

Perez and his team have already shown that a vaccine consisting of a weakened form of the H9N2 virus is capable of protecting chickens, their eggs and mice against two other lethal forms of the flu virus, including the highly lethal H5N1 avian flu. This vaccine could be administered to immunize wild and domestic birds against avian flu to minimize spread to humans.

Next they will test the vaccine in other mammals like pigs and ferrets, good models for the human immune system.

While it may be several years before scientists like Perez create an effective vaccine to protect humans against lethal H5N1 or other lethal avian bird flu strains, the universal influenza backbone will make the eventual creation of that vaccine much easier.

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Massie ('95) Realizes Dream of Building Practice Near Boyhood Home

Tom Massie

Dr. Tom Massie (’95), president-elect of the VVMA, has built Rose Hill Veterinary Practice -- a sprawling mixed-practice located on several acres carved out of a Rappahannock County Christmas tree farm. The Texas Longhorn pictured above was at Massie's practice for reproductive work.

Dr. Tom Massie (’95) used to ponder his future while studying at Rappahannock High School 25 years ago.

Just across the highway and situated on some of the prettiest countryside in the Virginia Piedmont is the future he created: Rose Hill Veterinary Practice.

The sprawling mixed-practice located on several acres carved out of a Rappahannock County Christmas tree farm employs seven veterinarians and contains fully equipped, independent hospital facilities for both small and large animals.

“My primary focus is on Total Quality Management for all clients,” said Massie, who begins his term as president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA) in early 2009. “This dedication to communication and education has created a culture of incredibly bright and conscientious clients.”

Massie’s commitment to quality and education is visible in every sector of the complex.

Clients visiting both the small animal and the large animal practice are greeted with wall-size colorful murals. Highly trained administrative and technical staff--including one of the few licensed veterinary technicians certified in Large Animal Care—help provide state-of-the art care.

“I wanted to have a place in an area that had never had a veterinarian,” said Massie, a place where clients who are “large, small or indifferent, wealthy, poor or indifferent, could get care for whatever they showed up with, and not just rudimentary, bare bones care, top-flight care.”

His own caseload specializes in bovine and equine reproduction, bovine and equine embryo transfer, ultrasound, neonatology and the management of young, developing horses. He has a special interest in angular limb and hoof deformities in young horses.

On the second floor is a classroom facility that can house fifty or sixty guests for continuing education meetings and an apartment unit for fourth-year veterinary students who are training on site.

Massie is committed to fostering the next generation of veterinarians. He and his colleagues work with local 4-H groups to build awareness of the profession, and he has been very engaged with the VMRCVM’s mentor/mentee program.

“I certainly feel a sense of privilege to get to work with them,” said Massie. “I feel like they bring me an awful lot. I also feel like our practice is a model that maybe doesn’t exist everywhere.”

Massie’s decision to bring modern veterinary medicine to his area of Rappahannock County can be traced to his childhood years growing up on the family beef cattle farm. There was no local veterinarian and he and his father provided a lot of care for their farm animals.

His interests in veterinary medicine became more defined after enrolling at Virginia Tech in the late 1980’s and discovering that “a lot of the answers I had to a lot of the questions I had for various professors were held within professors at the veterinary school.” Massie enrolled in the VMRCVM and graduated as class valedictorian in 1995.

Massie then spent the next three years gaining experience in large animal ambulatory and small animal practice while affiliated with Loudoun Veterinary Service in Purcellville, Va.

In August 1998, he purchased the home he grew up in and launched his own business, a solo ambulatory practice that he operated out of his home.

"That was a very educational year," said Massie, who had to quickly assemble business and practice management skills. “I learned a lot of that stuff the hard way.”

But his business steadily grew. He added his first associate in spring 2000 and in 2001 he purchased the land for Rose Hill. He then began constructing “piece by piece, inch by inch, row by row” what has become a major veterinary hospital.

Massie says he feels honored at the prospects of beginning service as president of the VVMA and has enormous respect for those who have gone before him. “To be associated with folks who are that impassioned about what they do and get the privilege to work with them is a great honor,” he said.

He believes the veterinary profession needs to build public awareness about its scope and value and he understands the need to proactively manage legislative and regulatory changes that affect the profession.

He hopes to increase equine and food animal practitioner involvement with the VVMA this year.

“The bottom line is we (VVMA) represent all veterinarians in Virginia,” he said.

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